Ignoring your boss’s directions isn’t usually the best career decision. But that’s exactly what Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft is doing on his commander-in-chief’s transgender policy.
During Tuesday’s Homeland Security hearing in the House, the admiral was open about his intent to defy the rule. For Zukunft, who’s been critical of the policy from the beginning, his posture was nothing new. When Donald Trump asked for a study on the impact of opening the military’s doors to people who identify as transgender, most service chiefs were outspoken about the risks. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard commandant wasn’t one of them.
Breaking with the Pentagon’s brass, he told reporters that he personally called “all 13 members of the Coast Guard who have come out as transgender” to reassure them that he “would not turn [his] back” after the president tweeted his intent to change the rule last year. “We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith.” But if Zukunft thinks prolonging the distraction is good for the troops, he’s in the minority. Only 16 percent of people serving in the military think Obama’s policy was good for morale. Fifty-seven percent oppose it outright. But in this case, the only opinion that matters is the White House. Yet that’s the very one the commandant is flouting.
Despite a full analysis from the Pentagon — and the president’s official policy change — Zukunft argued to House members that the issue had not been “reconciled” among all the branches. Four more active-duty Coast Guardsmen have identified as transgender since the president’s roll back last year. “We are certainly committed to their continued service in the United States Coast Guard. We will make sure there is one policy for all service members.” But if the head of Coast Guard cares about the troops he represents, he’ll stop peddling his own agenda and follow orders. Otherwise, his commander-in-chief might want to find someone who will.
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